April 11, 2015

Mickey Rooney, The Human Comedy


The Role: as a young high schooler working as a telegram delivery boy in his small town against the backdrop of WWII, this is a type of character that suits Mickey Rooney quite well--that of your all-American do-good golden boy, dripping with sweet, small town values. It's another instance of a nomination that just makes sense for the time period, even though ultimately the performance leaves much to be desired.

What I Didn't Like: The Human Comedy is a particularly strange film in the sense that it isn't so much about Rooney or Homer as much as it is about Homer and the people he knows--his siblings, his co-workers, etc. This means that Rooney comes in and out of the film pretty consistently, and he's never the central focus enough for him to make a real impact. We are served with vignettes of other people's stories as well, so we'll find a segment focused on Rooney for about 10 minutes or so before the film leaves to focus on Homer's brother who's off to war and philosophizing about life with his orphan friend, or to leave and focus on Homer's co-worker who has found love with a wealthy socialite and has come to meet her family for the first time. So the narrative is a bit spastic, and while there are moments here and there within the film in which Rooney does a great job acting, ultimately it's not enough to pack a big punch when I'm reflecting on the performance after the film is over. I would say that there are too many valleys where Homer is stagnant and not really doing anything special, and not enough peaks with which Rooney is given something juicy to work with.

What I Liked: Having really loved him in Babes in Arms, I was skeptical about how Rooney would perform in an all-around drama instead of a song-and-dance show. As I'd find from this film, Rooney is actually quite a capable actor in both genres. His style of charm ensures that you're at least invested in his character's, and he brings a naturalness to his dramatic moments that bring weight to the film, such as the scene in which he has to deliver a telegram to a woman which reveals that her son has died at war, or the scene in which Homer reads his brother's letter aloud to Frank Morgan. I was rooting for him during these moments, hoping he'd deliver something excellent, but the way the film is written deters him from being able to go above and beyond.


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  2. 'The Human Comedy' is an ensemble film, which works against Rooney's impact. It also ladles out the cinematic goo to the point where one not only notices it but actively resents its insistent piety. Characters talk in 'Hallmark card' platitudes and no one has flaws, which makes Rooney's understated sincerity stand out all the more. He's entirely believable and, had his role been more central to the film, he'd have been an Oscar shoo-in. As it is, his work testifies to his versatility and his ability to subtly shade a characterization.